The 121st Christmas Bird Count in Tennessee

Twenty-seven counts were completed in the state during the 121st count period, one less than last season. The Benton CBC (Polk County) was a new count for this season. Unfortunately, the Chattanooga CBC was held just outside the official count period window so those totals cannot be included here. This Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season was certainly very different as it was conducted in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to all the observers who ventured out safely to help with CBCs.

The total number of species recorded during the Tennessee counts this season was 154 on count day, slightly below last year but near average for the state. Four additional species were seen as count week only birds. American Avocet and Cassin’s Kingbird were new species, recorded for the first time on a CBC in the state. This brings the state total species to 274 (+ 3 additional count week only species).

More than 404 thousand individual birds were counted in Tennessee during this CBC season. Big Sandy, Duck River, and Reelfoot Lake had the most individual birds tallied with over 50k counted on each.

The Duck River and Reelfoot Lake tied for high count for total species with 121 species on count day. Besides those two, only one other count topped the 100 species barrier – Big Sandy (113). Several other counts were close to the century mark – Savannah (99), Knoxville (98), Perry County (96), Hickory-Priest (95), and Memphis (95).

Eight counts experienced some form of precipitation on count day. All counts that reported rain experienced only light rain except Savannah, which had heavy rain in the late afternoon. Only the Duck River and Great Smokey Mountains National Park (GSMNP) counts reported any snowfall, and it was light in both cases. Thirteen counts reported temperatures at or below freezing for at least part of count day with the coldest temperature being reported on the Perry County count on Christmas Day where the low was 12 degrees Fahrenheit! The high temperature rose above freezing on every Tennessee CBC this season except the aforementioned Perry County count where the high temperature only reached 29 degrees Fahrenheit. Big Sandy and Knoxville enjoyed the highest temperature on count day at 63 degrees, on17 December and 2 January, respectively.

Knoxville once again had the largest number of participants with 63. The Nashville CBC was again second with 52 participants. The new Benton CBC had the lowest number of participants with five.

Geese and Swans

Reelfoot Lake had the high numbers of Greater White-fronted (1551) and Snow Geese (2320), while Duck River had the high count for Ross’s Goose (35) and Cackling Goose (290). Knoxville had the high count for Canada Goose (1277) again. A Mute Swans was reported at Knoxville. There were no Tundra or Trumpeter Swans reported this CBC season.

Dabbling and Diving Ducks

Wood Ducks were reported on 17 state CBCs with the high count coming from Clarksville (50). Gadwall was also noted on 17 counts across the state with Duck River having the high count (5147). The high counts for American Wigeon (2235) and Mallard (12,501) again came from the Duck River CBC. Mallards were tallied on every CBC in the state with the exception of Fayette County (?), GSMNP, and Roan Mountain. American Black Ducks were reported on ten Tennessee counts with the high mark coming from Big Sandy with 40 birds. No Blue-winged Teal were reported on a CBC in the state this year. Duck River again produced the high counts for Northern Shoveler (149), Northern Pintail (2050), and Green-winged Teal (3015).

The high tally for Canvasback (1307) again came from the Big Sandy count and the high count for Redhead (63) again came from the Hiwassee CBC. Ring-necked Duck was again most numerous at Duck River (1026).  Big Sandy had the high count for Greater Scaup (105), while Reelfoot Lake again had the high tally for Lesser Scaup (1472). A single Surf Scoter at Reelfoot Lake was the only one reported on count day, but Knoxville added a count week bird. These were the only scoters reported this CBC season. Individual Long-tailed Ducks were reported count day at on the Perry County and Reelfoot Lake CBCs and Bristol reported one count week. The 584 Buffleheads at Duck River were the most for the state this season while Big Sandy tallied 800 Common Goldeneye, again more than the rest of the state combined. Hooded Mergansers were tallied on 23 counts this season with the high count coming from Memphis (208). Common Mergansers were noted only on the Cades Cove (6) and Big Sandy (2) counts. Red-breasted Merganser was noted on just six state counts; the largest number was counted on the Duck River count (124) with the Big Sandy tally not far behind (104). Nine counts across the state reported Ruddy Ducks this season, down from 12 last year. The high count was again from Reelfoot Lake with 842 counted. That number is still more than the rest of the state combined but way down from the 8k plus reported last CBC season!

Gallinaceous Species

Northern Bobwhites were detected on only three CBCs across the state this season. Ruffed Grouse were reported only as count week birds on the Elizabethton and Roan Mountain counts. A total of 1142 Wild Turkeys were tallied statewide on 23 counts with the high count coming from White County (257).

Grebes

Pied-billed Grebes were found across the state on 22 different CBCs with the high coming from the Hickory-Priest count (128). The Hickory-Priest CBC also once again had the state high count for Horned Grebe with 213 tallied, also again more than the rest of the state combined! A rare Eared Grebe, noted on the Hickory-Priest count, was the only one for the state.

Pigeons & Doves

Rock Pigeon was reported on every Tennessee CBC again this season with the high count this year coming from Memphis (992). Eurasian Collared-Doves for the third straight year were recorded on a dozen counts across the state with the high count coming from Memphis (42). The always ubiquitous Mourning Dove was once again found on every CBC in the state in about average numbers. Memphis completed the sweep with a high count (1413) on this species as well.

Rail, Coot, and Crane

Virginia Rails were detected on four CBCs in the state with a total of nine individuals counted – Duck River (1), Reelfoot Lake (3), Savannah (3), and White County (2). A single Sora detected on the Benton CBC and two on the Memphis count were the only ones reported. Nickajack Lake had the largest number of American Coots (1016) tallied this season. A total of 2168 coots were counted on 11 CBCs across the state. That number was down considerably from last count season. Sandhill Cranes were noted on ten CBCs again this season and the high count as usual came from Hiwassee (18,139), where the overwhelming majority of the state total of 18,436 birds of this species was recorded. No Whooping Cranes were reported again this CBC season.

Shorebirds

A single American Avocet noted on the Big Sandy count was the first ever for this species on a Tennessee CBC! Killdeer was noted on 25 of the 27 state CBCs, being absent only from three counts in upper East Tennessee. The high count again came from Reelfoot Lake (330). For the second year in a row no Dunlin were reported in the state. Least Sandpipers were noted on three counts across the state - Hiwassee (65), Memphis (47), and Knoxville (count week).  No yellowlegs were detected this year on any Tennessee CBC. Wilson’s Snipe was noted on 16 CBCs across the state with the high count (122) coming from Duck River. American Woodcock was recorded on 11 Tennessee CBCs for a total of 33 birds. A high tally of a dozen birds was noted on the Nashville count.

Gulls and Terns

A state total of 3092 Bonaparte’s Gulls was tallied on 14 counts across Tennessee. Knoxville had the high count for this species (830). Ring-billed Gulls were found on 20 counts statewide with the Big Sandy CBC tallying an incredible total of 50k birds! Eight counts reported Herring Gulls this season for a total of 1194 individuals. Big Sandy also had the high count for that species with an impressive 1000 birds. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were noted on the three state CBCs – Big Sandy (3), Duck River (5), and Reelfoot Lake (count week). Forster’s Terns made a good showing this CBC season with 15 birds tallied. They were all from two counts – Big Sandy (5) and Duck River (10)!

Loons

No Red-throated Loons were detected in the state this CBC season. A single Pacific Loon, found on the Big Sandy count was the only one reported. A total of 247 Common Loons were tallied across Tennessee on nine counts with the biggest majority of those coming from the Hickory-Priest count (136).

Cormorant, Pelican, and Herons

Double-crested Cormorants were noted on 15 counts across the state with the high count at Reelfoot Lake (519). American White Pelicans were tallied on seven state counts and the high count also came from Reelfoot Lake (1020). Great Blue Herons were found on all 27 of the counts across the state; the largest number again came from Knoxville with 178 counted. A total of 85 Great Egrets were tallied on seven counts with 56 of these counted at Duck River! A single Green Heron on the Knoxville CBC was the only one reported. Black-crowned Night-Herons were noted on four counts again this season for a total of five individuals. A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron found on the Great Smokey Mountains National Park count is one of only a handful ever reported on a CBC in the state!

New World Vultures and Diurnal Raptors

Black Vultures were detected on 25 of the 27 counts with White County getting the high tally (319), while Turkey Vultures were noted on 26 of the 27 CBCs.  White County also had the highest total for those with 238 individuals. No Ospreys were found in the state on a CBC this season. Six Golden Eagles were tallied on four counts this season with Duck River and Big Sandy again reporting two each. Reelfoot Lake again had the high mark for Northern Harrier (15) and the species was recorded on 18 counts across the state. Knoxville tallied the high count for Sharp-shinned Hawks with five. Thirty-six total Sharpies were tallied on the 20 counts that recorded them. Cooper’s Hawks totaled 90 birds on 23 counts with Knoxville tallying the only double-digit count (11) for this accipiter. Only five Tennessee counts were missing Bald Eagle this season with a total of 259 individuals tallied, down slightly from last year; the high count came from the Duck River CBC (62).

Red-shouldered Hawks were detected on all CBCs in the state again this season with a total of 282 individuals recorded; the high mark for this species came from Memphis (27). The ubiquitous Red-tailed Hawk had a good showing this CBC season with 600 total birds across Tennessee. They were once again found on all CBCs in the state. Memphis also had the high count for this buteo with 49 individuals tallied. Additional forms of Red-tailed Hawks seen this season on Tennessee CBCs were a Harlan’s at Buffalo River and Northern (abieticola) at both Duck River and Reelfoot Lake. No Rough-legged Hawks were reported this CBC season.

Owls and Kingfisher

Seven species of owls were detected by observers owling on this season’s CBCs. Barn Owls were detected on six state CBCs for a total of nine birds. Two birds each were noted on the Big Sandy, Clarksville, and Duck River counts. Eastern Screech-Owl was detected on 17 counts for the season for a total of 58 individuals with a high count of six at both Big Sandy and Savannah. Great Horned Owl was tallied on 20 counts across the state with the high counts coming from Clarksville and Reelfoot Lake with five each. Barred Owl was reported on 19 counts in the state this season and Reelfoot Lake tallied the high count (18). One Northern Saw-whet Owl was discovered on the Shady Valley count for the only one in the state. Short-eared Owls were noted on five counts across the state for a total of seven birds. Two each were tallied at Memphis and Reelfoot Lake. Two Long-eared Owls on the Nashville count were the only ones discovered in the state.

Belted Kingfisher was again reported on all state counts this year. The high count again (30) came from the Knoxville CBC.

Woodpeckers and Falcons

Red-headed Woodpeckers were again noted on 20 Tennessee CBCs, with the Big Sandy count tallying the state high (61). Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Pileated Woodpecker were all found on all state counts this season. Hairy Woodpecker was only missed on the Lebanon CBC. High counts for these species were noted as follows: Yellow-billed Sapsucker (81, Knoxville), Red-bellied Woodpecker (174, Knoxville), Downy (118, Knoxville), Hairy (12, Knoxville), Flicker (244, Duck River), and Pileated (41, Duck River).

American Kestrel was noted on all 27 state counts and the high mark again came from White County (47). Merlins were detected on a dozen counts across the state for the season for a state total of 14 birds; Savannah had the high mark with three birds. No Peregrine Falcons were reported in the state this CBC season.

Flycatchers, Shrike, and Vireos

Eastern Phoebe was again reported on all 27 CBCs this season with a high count of 49 tallied on the Duck River count. A Cassin’s Kingbird, discovered at Bell’s Bend Park in Davidson County on December 6, was the first Tennessee record of this western species! It continued for the Nashville CBC and obviously was a first CBC record for the state! Loggerhead Shrikes were detected on five counts this season. The statewide total (28) was down slightly from last year (31). The high count was again tallied on the Buffalo River CBC (15). Count week White-eyed Vireos in the Clarksville and Reelfoot Lake count circles were the only ones reported. Four Blue-headed Vireos were reported in the state this season with two of those on the Fayette County CBC.

Corvids, Lark, Chickadees, and Titmouse

Blue Jays and American Crows were again tallied on all 27 counts in the state and in good numbers. Fish Crows were noted on seven CBCs across the state for a total of 70 individuals; half of those (35) were tallied on the Jackson CBC. Common Raven was detected on seven East Tennessee counts again. The 31 counted at Roan Mountain were the high mark for the state. Horned Lark was noted on only five counts again this season; the high count again came from Reelfoot Lake (127).

Carolina Chickadee was, per normal, reported on every Tennessee count this season with the statewide total (3364) quite a bit higher than last season. Seven Black-capped Chickadees on the Great Smokey Mountains National Park count were the only ones for the state. Tufted Titmice were also noted on every CBC in the state this season with total numbers (2760) slightly lower than last year. No swallows were reported this CBC season.

Nuthatches and Creeper

It was another irruption year for Red-breasted Nuthatches with 149 individuals reported across the state on 24 different counts. Big Sandy had the high count for this species with 23 birds. White-breasted Nuthatch was present on all CBCs in the state with the overall statewide total (873) slightly lower compared to the previous season. Brown-headed Nuthatch was reported on nine counts this season for a total of 73 birds; the high count again came from Savannah (27). Brown Creeper was missed on only four counts; the high count came from Reelfoot Lake (16).

Wrens through Waxwing

All five of the expected wren species were tallied again this season. House Wrens were reported on 12 counts across the state for a total of 36 individuals, up from last winter; eight on the Duck River count was the high mark for the state. Winter Wren was recorded on every state CBC this season, with the high count (82) again recorded at Duck River. Sedge Wrens were reported on four Tennessee counts again totaling six individuals.  Two each were detected on the Benton, Memphis, and Reelfoot Lake CBCs. Nashville reported a count week sighting. Ten Marsh Wrens were detected across the state on three CBCs with half of those (5) coming from the Reelfoot Lake count. Carolina Wrens were again reported on every CBC in the state and numbers were up again with 2777 tallied statewide. The state high count came from Knoxville (358). Golden-crowned Kinglet again was noted on every state CBC and Ruby-crowned Kinglet only went undetected on only two counts (Cades Cove and Shady Valley). Duck River had the high counts for both Golden-crowned (122) and Ruby-crowned (195) Kinglets.

European Starlings were again found on every CBC in the state and were generally numerous. Eleven total Gray Catbirds were detected on seven counts across the state this season – Duck River (3), Memphis (2), and Savannah (2) all hosted multiple birds. Brown Thrasher again was tallied on 25 counts in the state with the high count again coming from the Duck River count (37).  Our state bird, the Northern Mockingbird, was again well represented and present on all 27 Tennessee counts. The high count once again came from Knoxville (270).

Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, and Hermit Thrush were once again tallied on all the state CBCs this season. High marks for each were as follows – Eastern Bluebird (Knoxville, 370), American Robin (Savannah, 4682), and Hermit Thrush (Duck River, 84). Cedar Waxwings were only absent from the Roan Mountain CBC and the high count was noted at Nashville (1114).

Weaver Finch, Pipit, Finches, and Winter Finches

House Sparrows were, as usual, found statewide and were only missing from two counts – Cades Coves and Franklin-Coffee County. American Pipit was detected in 14 count circles with a high count coming from the Benton CBC (141). House Finches again appeared on all Tennessee counts in good numbers with the high mark again counted at Knoxville (346). Irruptive Purple Finches were noted in the state in good numbers again this CBC season and were noted on 22 counts with good numbers on several counts. The high tally was noted on the GSMNP count (67). Red Crossbills were reported on three CBCs this season for a total of 16 birds. Elizabethton counted nine for the high tally. A Common Redpoll was reported as a count week species on the Nashville CBC. Pine Siskin numbers this season (1258) were way up this this season compared to last year (71); 21 counts noted this irruptive species and Fayette County tallied by far the highest count with 575 individuals! American Goldfinch was again noted on every count in the state and generally in good numbers.

Longspurs and Sparrows

Lapland Longspur numbers were down again this winter with only five total individuals noted on count day by Reelfoot Lake (3) Savannah (1), and Perry County (1); Nashville added it as a count week species. LeConte’s Sparrow numbers increased this season with a dozen individuals   totaled on five counts, all in the western half of the state again. Duck River had more than half of the state total on their count (7). American Tree Sparrows were detected on only two counts this CBC season – one each at Memphis and Reelfoot Lake. Chipping Sparrows were located on all but two counts across the state, being absent only at Roan Mountain and Shady Valley. The high count was again at Savannah (260). Field Sparrows were again tallied in every count circle in the state with a high mark of 200 birds tallied at Duck River (181).

Fox Sparrows were only absent on only four CBCs in the state with a high count of 57 birds tallied at Reelfoot Lake.  Dark-eyed Juncos were again widespread and common and found on every Tennessee CBC; the high count this season came from Fayette County (389). White-crowned Sparrows were accounted for on all but five state counts with a high count again coming from the Reelfoot Lake (76). Amazingly, the Harris’s Sparrow returned to Duck River for the third consecutive year and was again the only one in the state! White-throated Sparrows were widespread and again noted on every Tennessee CBC with a high count of 804 tallied at Duck River. Vesper Sparrows were noted on six counts across the state with the vast majority being tallied on the Savannah (16) and Duck River (13) CBCs.

Savannah Sparrows were noted on 20 counts across the state with a high count noted on the Memphis CBC (239). Song Sparrows again made the list of every count in the state with Duck River again tallying the high mark (1277). Lincoln’s Sparrows were discovered on only two counts this season – Big Sandy (2) and Memphis (1). Swamp Sparrow was only absent from one CBC this season – Franklin-Coffee County; the state high count by a wide margin came once again came from Duck River where 1338 individuals were counted. Eastern Towhees were noted on every state CBC; the high count was noted at Knoxville (167). A rare Spotted Towhee was discovered on the Jackson CBC, the only one reported in the state.

Blackbirds

No mega flocks of blackbirds were noted on any of the CBCs this season. Red-winged Blackbird was found in 25 of the 27 count circles; the high count came from the Reelfoot Lake (12,955). Western Meadowlarks were documented on two counts, both in West Tennessee as you would expect – Jackson (2) and Reelfoot Lake (1). Eastern Meadowlark was again missing only from the Roan Mountain count circle; the high count this year was from White County (152). Rusty Blackbirds were located in 18 count circles across the state. The high tally came from Reelfoot Lake where 1163 birds were tallied. Brewer’s Blackbirds were documented on only three counts again. This year’s total was 22 individuals – Memphis (17), Reelfoot Lake (2), and Big Sandy (2). Common Grackle was noted on 21 Tennessee counts and Brown-headed Cowbird was tallied on 22.

Warblers and Cardinal

“Only” six warbler species were noted in the state this season, down from the amazing eight species noted last CBC season. A Black-and-white Warbler documented on the Knoxville count added to only a handful of CBC records for this species. The more expected Orange-crowned Warbler was found on ten CBCs for the season with overall numbers (23) even higher than last year (16). Five counts had multiple birds – five and Duck River and four at Knoxville constituted the majority. Of the five Common Yellowthroats were found this season, four were found at Reelfoot Lake! The now expected Palm Warbler was found on an amazing 19 counts this season! The state total (109) was way up from the previous CBC season and the Benton CBC hosted an amazing 55 Palms! Pine Warblers were found on 17 counts across the state for a total of 61 birds; the Nickajack Lake count tallied the state high count (8). Our most common winter warbler was again, as expected, the Yellow-rumped Warbler and it was again absent from only one count in the state (Roan Mountain). The high count this season came from Duck River (362). A Yellow-throated Warbler, photographed the day after the CBC at Reelfoot Lake, was a count week addition and was the only one of that species reported in the state this CBC season. Northern Cardinal was, per usual, reported on every count in the state with Knoxville totaling the high count (443).

Closing Thoughts

A big thank you once again to all the compilers and the hundreds of CBC participants across Tennessee for all your continued efforts on our Christmas counts! Special thanks to observers who take the time to submit photographic documentation, audio recordings, and written details for rare and unusual species; your efforts make the jobs of the compilers and my job as state editor so much easier!

Stay abreast of Audubon

Our email newsletter shares the latest programs and initiatives.